Best Interns Ever

We asked you to tell us about some memorable interns. Here are the results.

Daniel Hernandez and President Obama. Click image to expand.
Daniel Hernandez and President Obama

After reading about the heroic efforts of Daniel Hernandez, the intern who may have saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life on Saturday, we asked you to tell us about stories of memorable interns you had known, heard of or read about. Here are the best ones.

Gabrielle Wimer: In October 2008, Wimer, a then-24-year-old criminal justice major at Grossmont College, cracked a 36-year-old cold case for the San Diego Police Department. By resubmitting old fingerprint evidence to the FBI, she found the murderer of Vietnam vet and postal worker Jerry Jackson. Although detectives had the fingerprint evidence in 1972, when Jackson was stabbed to death, they didn’t have a national database. They also weren’t watching CSI, which may have helped young Wimer.

Vivien Thomas: An African-American with only a high school degree, Thomas took a job as an assistant in Dr. Alfred Blalock’s Vanderbilt University animal laboratory in 1930. He was hired at first as a janitor, and began his career feeding the laboratory animals and cleaning cages. But it wasn’t long before Blalock discovered that Thomas was smart and apparently had remarkable hand-eye coordination. When Blalock became the chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1941, he asked Thomas to join his surgical team there. In 1976, after supervising surgical laboratories at Johns Hopkins for more than 35 years, Thomas was named instructor in surgery. He died in 1985.

Albert Schatz: Schatz was the Rutgers University graduate student who co-discovered the antibiotic streptomycin, the first antibiotic that was effective against tuberculosis and could also treat cholera and bubonic plague. Schatz isolated the strain in 1943 when he was working in the lab of microbiologist Selman Waksman. At first, the discovery was attributed only to Waksman. But in 1950, Schatz filed a suit against him, demanding that he be named as a co-discoverer of streptomycin. In 1952, Waksman received the Nobel Prize for the discovery, and Schatz eventually got his wish: Today, he’s recognized as an instrumental player in the antibiotic’s discovery.  He died in 2005.

Michael Faraday: Faraday, whose discoveries led to the invention of the electric motor, was 20 when he got his big break. It was 1812, and he was nearing the end of a seven-year apprenticeship with a bookbinder and bookseller in England. During his apprenticeship, he had become fascinated with science books, especially the ones about electricity. When a customer in the bookbinder’s shop invited Faraday to attend a lecture by Humphry Davy—one of the foremost scientists at England’s Royal Institution—he jumped at the chance. Faraday took 300 pages of notes during the lecture, sent Davy all of them, and asked for a job. Luckily, Davy was flattered rather than creeped out, even though he at first told Faraday he couldn’t hire him. Later, after a lab accident damaged his eyes, Davy appointed Faraday to the job of chemical assistant at the Royal Institution. Faraday was eventually appointed to the position of Fullerian professor of chemistry.

Jules Feiffer: When Feiffer, a cartoonist and writer, asked his mentor, Will Eisner, for a job, he said he would work for no money. That alone might have guaranteed his success. He started working on Eisner’s comic strip, The Spirit, at age 16, and soon proved he could do more than write balloons based on Eisner’s storyline. In 1947, when Feiffer was 18, he started his own comic strip, Clifford, which launched in 1949. He became famous for another strip, Feiffer, and won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1986.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Burnell was at Cambridge University in 1967 working on her doctorate when she detected the first known radio pulsar, a type of neutron star that emanates radio waves and electromagnetic radiation. Her main job as a research student under adviser Anthony Hewish was to monitor the radio transmissions coming in through Cambridge’s radiotelescope. But her monotonous, internlike job of chart analysis became more interesting when she noticed strange signals that appeared to be coming from outside the solar system. Like most assistants, interns, and apprentices, Burnell’s role in the pulsar discovery was downplayed. Anthony Hewish and Sir Martin Ryle, another Cambridge scientist, received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the pulsar discovery. Burnell still managed to lead a successful life as a professor, examiner, and consultant: She was president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 and 2004 and president of the Institute of Physics from October 2008 through October 2010.